View From Above


December 13, 2010  7:04 AM

Data Is The Next Cloud Frontier

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller
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We heard a lot of news last week related to data in the cloud. Perhaps the biggest news was Salesforce.com’s announcement that it was launching Database.com, an online database tool. Salesforce also announced the purchase of Heroku, a Ruby-based online development platform that offer developers an alternative to Java.

Meanwhile, cloud data vendor Factual received a whopping $25 million dollars in venture capital to continue its work in providing data as a service in the cloud. What do these announcements have in common?

For one thing, it shows that data management is moving to the cloud in a big way, whether that’s providing pre-populated databases as with Factual or an environment for building database applications as with Database.com.

In both instances, they take direct aim at Oracle. An ironic side story here is that while all of this was happening Apache walked away from the Java committee. Oracle now controls Java after purchasing Sun earlier this year. The fact that Salesforce bought an alternative development platform to Java couldn’t have been a coincidence. Both moves were aimed at Oracle’s core database business.

As for data in the cloud, one key venture capitalist, Mark Suster writing in his Both Sides of The Table blog suggested that data is the next major layer in the cloud. He articulately lays out the evolution of the cloud stack (I encourage you to read this; it’s a well written and fascinating post).

Suster outlines how as each layer of the cloud has developed, the cost of starting a new technology business has dropped. He believes that data is a long missing piece and he points to more recent startups like Yelp and foursquare as examples.

These sites started with some core data provided by the developers, but in most cases they relied on users to enter data about places to really take off. With a service like Factual, these companies could buy the data about all the restaurants in NYC or the country for that matter and seed their databases before launching.

They could buy storage from Amazon S3 and server space from Rackspace. They could build a database application with Database.com and all for a fraction of the cost of delivering a comparable product from startup in 2000 when a company had to buy almost all of the hardware and software at tremendous up-front cost.

As I wrote last week, when I first read about Database.com, I saw it as a logical step for Salesforce.com, but I didn’t necessarily see the full implications of it until I read Suster’s excellent blog post.

As we sit here all of this is coming together, seemingly in a single week, and having a potentially huge impact on the future of IT. Instead of dealing with expensive hardware and software solutions to implement database applications, you could provide the same services with cloud applications at a fraction of the cost.

What’s more you could get that same economy of scale and efficiency that Suster spoke of for start-ups, regardless of the size of your business or where it is in a business maturity model. IT Pros need to be paying attention because these trends matter. Otherwise, that flexible startup started on a shoe string using cloud services from Day 1 could be passing you before long.

December 8, 2010  10:35 AM

Virtualization Lets You Work and Play Securely on One Phone

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller

One of the big challenges facing IT departments as we move forward is how they will incorporate safe and secure applications into a mobile environment. This week, LG and VMware announced a partnership that will enable users to have a personal and secure work environment on the same phone using virtualization.

For the first release, this will work on Android, but there’s nothing to stop VMware from developing this for additional phone operating systems as demand requires. Certainly from an enterprise perspective Windows would make sense since lots of companies remain Microsoft shops.

The way this works is IT creates a virtual work environment using VMware and installs it on each user’s phone. Instead of having to carry two separate phones–one for work and one for play–users can have the two phones on a single device.

The virtualized work environment is essentially a complex app that sits on the phone. When the user taps the work phone app, the phone switches into work with all of the work applications, contacts and so forth that are related to work.

When the user wants to return to their non-work phone, they tap back into their personal environment and their personal contacts, music, videos and other content are all there waiting for them. It’s the best of both worlds in a single phone.

It should please IT departments who can ensure that the work-related content and apps will not mix with whatever else the user is doing on the device and this should help bring some peace of mind to IT. Meanwhile end users should love having a single device that supports both their lives, yet keeps them separate and distinct.

As VMware sees it, this solves a fundamental support issue for IT departments who are faced with increasing demand from end users to let them use a wide array of mobile devices. While organizations increasingly recognize the value of providing access to corporate data on mobile devices, there are a host of security and governance problems associated with that.

By giving these shops the ability to build an isolated, secure environment; VMware is helping solve this fundamental enterprise mobile dilemma.

Meanwhile employees want to use the phones they want to use. While this is initially an LG-VMware Android phone initiative there is little reason that VMware couldn’t extend this to other handset makers across multiple operating systems. I could even see instances where different phone operating systems worked on the same device via virtualization . After all, I can run multiple operating systems on my Mac Book Pro, so why not potentially running multiple operating systems on my iPhone.

It’s an elegant idea that opens up all kinds of interesting possibilities for both consumer and enterprise users, and any solution that can combine work and play into a single phone is certainly well worth exploring. It should be interesting to see where this goes and if it catches on in a big way or not.

You can see a video of a dual virtualized phone in action on Engadget.


December 6, 2010  5:39 AM

Dreamforce reinforces cloud vision

Ron Miller Ron Miller Profile: Ron Miller

It seems appropriate that I’m launching this blog the same week as Salesforce.com is holding its annual Dreamforce conference because Salesforce was the first company to truly bring an enterprise application into the cloud (even though nobody really called it cloud back then).

Word has it that billionaire businessman Marc Benioff was a starving entrepreneur in 1999 when he came up with the idea for Salesforce.com in a rented apartment in San Francisco. At the time, if you asked most IT professionals if they would be willing to put all of the details of their company’s customer data on somebody else’s servers they would have looked at you like you were daft.

Sure, maybe it was possible such an idea could work for small businesses who don’t have to deal with the sensitive security matters of a larger enterprise, but the big boys would never go for it.

Yet Salesforce.com grew into a billion dollar business, and not just with those small businesses, but with plenty of big ones too. Turns out the idea of putting a service up on a web site and charging far less than the comparable installed software made a lot of sense for a lot of companies.

In the introduction to Benioff’s book, Behind the Cloud, Dell CEO and chairman Michael Dell writes that much like how his company, Dell Computers, had done with PCs,  Salesforce rooted out the inefficiencies inherent in traditional enterprise software design. As Dell wrote:

“Enterprise software was exorbitantly expensive and onerous to implement, and, in the end, it didn’t work very well.”

When you add to that the ridiculously long upgrade cycles that took up to several years, and that when you did upgrade, it tended to break what you had in place, you might be wondering why IT wasn’t looking for a better way.

Once Salesforce proved the model could work without the sky falling (if you’ll pardon the expression), other IT pros had to at least take notice (or at least you would think they would). And if you could put your customer data in the cloud, why not other sensitive data?

Yet even today in 2010, more than 10 years after Benioff launched Salesforce.com, we have lots of push-back about cloud computing. There are of course some legitimate concerns around governance, data ownership and security, and I don’t mean to minimize them, but the fact is that there are many rock-solid cloud businesses out there today managing lots of data beyond just customer information including files, content, project data, and more.

It’s surely not a perfect solution (but show me one that is), but if offers regular upgrades (sometimes weekly or monthly) behind the scenes for free without breaking what’s in place (most of the time). That alone in my view makes cloud computing worth considering.

You still have a neck to throttle as the folks in IT are fond of saying because if that service goes down or has a security breach, the whole model is at risk. Salesforce and Google and Box.net and so many others understand that better than anyone.

Whatever your feelings about cloud computing or Salesforce.com at this moment in time, you have to admit that it pioneered the idea of storing enterprise data outside the firewall, and what was once considered a radical notion is a mainstream concept today.


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